How to Be Amazingly Productive in 2021 with These Time Management Strategies

The Aligned Time Method is a whole-person, time management system to help you become powerfully productive without ever feeling overwhelmed. At the heart of the Aligned Time Method is the Aligned Time Journal, a workspace where you can plan your goals and then align your hours and days to make progress on what matters to you.

When discussing the Aligned Time Journal with people, I often hear that they don’t want to switch over from their existing to-do list and calendar to the Aligned Time Journal.

To them, I reply, “You don’t have to!” In fact, the Aligned Time Journal seamlessly integrates with every existing to-do list and calendar system that you already use.

Time Management Tips for “Ideas People”

Time management quote

If you are looking for time management tips, it’s very likely that you are an “ideas person.” Ideas likely pop into your head while you are going about your day: in the shower, on your walk, while doing morning pages, or simply “out of nowhere.” And this is before ideas, tasks, and to-dos come rolling out of meetings, conversations, and emails!

The best (and worst) thing about being an “ideas person” is that you will soon discover that there are way more ideas than there is time to pursue them. This is how you end up racing against the clock trying to-do too many things, for too many people, and making very little progress on what matters to you. And then you have that terrible feeling, that no matter how hard you try, it just isn’t enough.

Using Asana To Capture your Ideas and Delegate work and responsibilities

The to-do list is a great place to capture those ideas as they occur! As long as you aren’t holding yourself to-doing something with all those ideas, then you can leverage the to-do list as a powerful staging area! If you don’t have a to-do list, on the other hand, some of those great ideas will inevitably be lost.

I personally use Asana as my task management (and to-do list) solution. I used to use Omni Focus, which I loved, but it’s not built for teams. When I started working on an ongoing basis with virtual assistants, graphic designers, and others, it became necessary for me to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other people.

Asana lets you delegate tasks to members of your team and then chat inside the tasks to answer questions, add needed attachments, and negotiate due dates.

Perfect for team goal setting

There are other tools that do this, too, of course! And there are other characteristics that you might care more about, such as whether it has a Kanban board option (Asana does, and many others do as well).

As always, the best time management app, is the one that works for you.

Here’s a roundup of the most common to-do list apps.

Why can’t I just use a piece of paper and a pen?

time management tools

You can! And many, many very productive people do! In fact, I have a Moleskine notebook that I use specifically to capture the to-dos that emerge from meetings and other work that I use when I don’t want to stop and open Asana and get distracted. But then, as soon as I can, I add those tasks to Asana. Why? Because I don’t want to write and re-write a giant list of active tasks.

There are people who claim that the writing and re-writing process IS THE CORNERSTONE of their process, but I don’t like all that drama. Plus, I want there to be a way to put a task on pause and make it go away until I bring it back, without the potential of losing the task. That’s easier with an app than it is with paper and pencil.

The Done App: How habits are formed

There is another kind of daily to-do that I manage in a completely different way. These are daily habits that I’m trying to form like drinking more water, checking my budget every day, texting a friend I’ve gotten out of the habit of texting, or meditating every day. These tasks repeat daily and don’t take a lot of time, so I don’t want them cluttering up or getting lost in Asana. As such, I handle them through the Done App.

How I use the Done App to Form Healthy Habits

It works like this: You set up a habit. You can add as little or as much detail as you like. You tell it how many times you want to-do that task each day.

Here is my entry for “Check YNAB” which is the budgeting software I use. My goal is to check it every day, usually in the morning, so I know where things stand before I’m tempted to roll on over to Amazon and buy things.

7 habits is too many habits to change at once

You assign it a color, set a reminder (I have this one set to remind me at 6:30 AM so I have an hour to drink coffee, but it’s done before the kids are up distracting me.

Now the habit can be seen on the main screen.

A few things to notice about my habits:

  1. This is the only one that is colored today because it’s the only one I’ve done. When I do the habit, I get to tap it, and then it goes from grey to pink (or whatever color you set) and makes me happy. Positive reinforcement!
  2. You can see that I have a 38-day streak. This means that I’ve looked at YNAB every day for 38 days (Woo for me, bad for Amazon).
  3. There are very few habits on my list. I’m up to 3, and now I’m done. You want to be careful (as you learn over and over again in the Aligned Time Journal) not to over-commit and try to form too many habits at once.
  4. You can see that I didn’t meditate today (which I call Soulo Time) but when you look at the history you’ll see that I’m not doing too bad. This keeps me from feeling too terrible when I break my streak.

My #1 goal setting app: the Aligned Time Journal!

As your to-do list rolls along collecting tasks, you will soon realize there are more things that you could do than time with which to do them.

This is where the Aligned Time Journal comes in.

Your time management coach in a journal

Using the Aligned Time Journal for smart goal setting

The Aligned Time Journal helps you prioritize, filter, and let go of tasks and to-dos. When you set your 90-day goals, you did it with full knowledge that it would force you to do some things and not others! When you consider a task, you’ll ask:

  1. Does this match my 90-day goals?
  2. Is it absolutely required to prevent me from losing my job or going to jail?

If the answer to these two questions is “No, It doesn’t match my goals and I won’t go to jail if I don’t do it,” then LET. IT. GO.

Delegate it if you must, put it on long-term pause, or just plain delete it.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the place where you have so many great ideas and opportunities that are aligned with your goals, that you can’t even do all of them!

This is where you tighten your belt even more and add this additional question:

3. Is this a high leverage, GREAT opportunity worthy of my extremely limited brain space and time?

No? Delegate, pause, delete.

Using Apple Notes to Support Goal Setting and Time Management

To capture details about my great ideas, I use Apple Notes. This is where I would put:

  • Links to articles with other people’s ideas
  • Links to forms, tutorials, and FAQs
  • Images or drawings
  • Contact info, names, and notes for phone calls I’ve had with consultants or vendors
  • Any random fact I want to be able to find later
Time management tools on areas of life to set goals

Apple notes is nice because it integrates with iCloud automatically, so all the notes show up on your phone and Mac (assuming you use Apple products). You can add all kinds of info, like images, links, text, text as bullets, drawings, etc. It’s handy and versatile and already installed! WIN-WIN-WIN

Time management tip: Maintain your calendar meticulously

I honestly don’t know how people survive without a carefully maintained calendar. There are times when what I’m doing simplifies to the point where I don’t have to keep a to-do list as carefully…but it’s been 10 years since I’ve had an incomplete calendar!

I, like you probably, use Google Calendar.

Here is a fictional week to illustrate the points to come:

Time management calendar

I use calendaring in two important ways: appointments and time blocking.

First, I use it to manage my appointments. Whether I am meeting with a client or student, seeing a doctor, or having lunch with my husband, there’s a calendar invite. If there’s a location or a zoom link, it’s in the calendar invite. And if there’s a need to reschedule, you’ll likely hear about it first because the calendar invite moves.

The most important reason for this is that I never have to remember a meeting. I just do what my calendar tells me to do! If I had to remember all the meetings I had scheduled in a particular day and search through emails looking for links and phone numbers and agendas that’s all I would do every day.

I literally have no idea what is happening later today.

Nor do I want to!

I am intentional when I set up my calendar, I maintain it meticulously, and then I do what I said I would do at the time I arranged to do it.

Note: IT IS VERY EASY for a calendar to get out of hand and take on a life of its own! Especially if you have a job that involves a lot of meetings, client work, or collaborations. This is where time blocking comes in.

Time blocking is a powerful time management strategy

A time block is a calendar “invite” that you use to do tasks. Sometimes the time blocks I need are for boring, monotonous tasks that simply need to get done. Examples include taxes, letters of recommendation, invoicing, budgeting and paperwork. I usually block this time in the afternoons when I’m functional but not creative or hyper-efficient.

21 days to form a habit quotes

Other times, I block time for creative, in-depth work. For example, if I have a presentation to prepare, I might choose to block the first two hours of my day when I’m most creative. This is critical because if I don’t block it one of two things will happen:

  • Other people will schedule themselves into my free time OR
  • I’ll forget that I need that time and in a fit of generosity, give it away.

On this fictional calendar, I’m pretending it’s Monday. This means that there’s a task block on Monday, but not on any future day. This is because, other than a block to protect my creative time, the rest of my time blocking is done when I’m doing my daily Aligned Time Journal planning in the morning.

Here’s how time blocking works for me:

  1. I take a look at the time I have available.
  2. I ask, “Given my commitments, how am I getting closer to my goals today?”
  3. Then, “What’s likely to get in my way?” often brings up this blocker: “Not having time set aside.”
  4. And THEN I figure out when I can work on it, and create the time block.

I want to say that time blocking can get OUT OF CONTROL. Many people say that you should block every single minute of every single day.

“Give every minute a job!” they say.

To which I say “Nope.”

Saying no is a healthy habit

I LOVE seeing free time on my calendar and having choice about what to do, including the choice to do NOTHING.

I’ve seen many calendar examples in time blocking blogs where there are 15 minutes to “jog to coffee,” 30 minutes for a “quick lunch” and 20 minutes to “listen to NPR while straightening the house” and I’m thinking…

“Who wants to live like that?!?”

All Time Management Apps and Strategies Can Get Out of Hand

Actually, all I’m really saying is that I DO NOT want to live like that.

All of the tools I use can be instruments of overwhelm when used without care.

  • To-do lists can make you feel like a hamster on a wheel.
  • Calendars can become hyper-booked and leave you breathless and depleted.
  • Time blocking can make you feel like a slacker for a 2-hour block of unscheduled time.
  • Even the DONE app can become a laundry list of high-performance habits that simply serve to show you exactly how low a performer you are.

And yet, all of them can be used with balance and compassion to help you create the life you WANT.

I’ve designed the Aligned Time Journal to help those of us who DO NOT strive to be productivity robots to get a lot done…while enjoying our lives!

Grab yours today!

get tips on time management and goal setting in the Aligned Time Journal

About the Author Amanda

Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.

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